Avian flu kills 50.54 million birds in the US: The worst epidemic in history
More than 50.54 million American birds died during this period the worst bird flu epidemic in US historyaccording to data from Institute of Agriculture, reports Reuters. It also marks the worst animal health disaster in US history.
Influenza affects chickens, turkeys and other types of birds and spreads rapidly among birds, which has caused significant damage to poultry farmers. It is also spread by wild birds, which has expanded the total area affected. The flu made poultry meat and eggs more expensive this holiday season.
Wild birds, including ducks, mallards and hawks, are known to transmit the virus — known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) — in droppings, feathers or through direct contact with poultry.
The outbreak began in February and has infected poultry and non-birds in 46 states, according to USDA data, according to Reuters.
“Wild birds continue to spread HPAI across the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to protecting U.S. poultry,” Rosemary Sifford, USDA’s chief veterinary officer, told Reuters.
Interestingly, only about 30 percent of cases were linked to wild bird origins in the 2015 outbreak, down significantly from 85 percent this year, the USDA told Reuters.
The USDA said turkey farms account for more than 70 percent of commercial poultry farms infected in this bird flu outbreak, and government officials are studying those turkey farms to figure out how to prevent future infections.
PEOPLE reached out to the USDA but did not immediately hear back.
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While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is low risk to humansthey still recommend avoiding any sick or dead birds.
At the beginning of this year, the flu began to warn. In response to the spread of bird flu across the US, some states have asked residents to remove their bird feeders outside to prevent the gathering of birds, especially migratory species, and the spread of bird flu.
Department of Natural Resources for both Michigan and Illinois issued recommendations to residents to remove their bird feeders. To learn more about why wildlife experts suggest this action as a precaution, PEOPLE reached out to Dr. Gail Hansen, DVM, MPH, of Humane Society Veterinary Medicine Association — part of Humane Society of the United States.
“Highly pathogenic avian influenza is spread through the droppings and respiratory secretions of infected birds and can be easily transmitted on objects contaminated with virus particles. The virus is hardy and can survive cold and low temperatures,” said Dr. Hansen on why some departments may ask people to remove bird feeders.
“Bird feeders encourage different species of birds to congregate together where the virus could be easily exchanged between them, and shared surfaces can continue to harbor the virus for some time,” she added.